September 19, 2011

Ion Drum Rocker Review

It’s hard to believe I linked to first review of the premium $299 Ion Drum Rocker almost three years ago!

Although I’ve been happy with the Rock Band 3 Pro drumkit (with cymbals), I finally decided to take my drumming to the next level and adopt the Ion Drum Rocker kit. One advantage of waiting this long, at least — the kit that was originally $299 is now only $249.

The Ion Drum Rocker, although super premium by gaming standards, is extremely low end in the real world of drums. I knew that, and I wasn’t expecting much when I unpacked the (zillion!) boxes. But my first reaction to the Ion Drum Rocker was “wow, this thing is rock solid”. It’s a huge step up in quality, construction, and feel from a stock Rock Band 3 pro drumkit. Consider that you’re going from this:

rock band 3 pro drumkit with cymbals and dual pedals

to this:

It is, in a word, beefy. One of the reasons I upgraded is because our 2.5 year old son enjoys whacking on the drums with us, and I wasn’t convinced the stock kit could continue to survive his tender mercies for a whole lot longer. Well, there’s no way any toddler can harm this Ion kit; it’s all ridged aluminum frame and multi-point bolted joints.

It’s also way, way more complicated than the simple Rock Band 3 kit. Check out the assembly diagram, below (click through for a larger version):

Here’s a full visual inventory of all the parts in the box. And after building it up, you’re not done — you still have to connect everything together, and that’s one distinct wire for …

… eight wires and eight connections all told, as you can see in this visual diagram.

Alesis, the underlying manufacturer, is known for inexpensive but good quality electronic drum kits; the Ion Drum Rocker is effectively their most inexpensive electronic kit. Given the heritage, it is every bit as reliable and satisfying to play as you might expect. That part didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was how ridiculously configurable this kit is.

Apparently not all real world drum kits are arranged in the layout of a Rock Band 3 drumkit! I’m sure this is totally obvious to any real world drummer in retrospect, but drum kit positioning is often a matter of preference, musical genre, even song! On the Ion drum kit, the frame, the pads, the cymbals — all can be adjusted, tweaked, and arranged in an almost infinite number of ways. (Not to mention that some drummers can have literally dozens of drums and cymbals in their kit.) This was a whole new world for me! If I’m going to spend the dough on a fancyish kit, I want to do this right — I want to learn something approximating real drum motions and proper standard drum layouts. But then I belatedly realized I have no idea what that is. So I asked a question on music.stackexchange to determine what the “standard” or “typical” drum kit layout is.

I’ll save you all the angst and give you the short version: the Rock Band 3 layout is fairly close to a typical drum kit, but the biggest difference is that the snare (red) drum should be under the first tom (yellow) and lower, between the drummer’s legs. And really there should be a pedal under each foot, too! As you can see in this diagram:

I’m still tweaking my layout, but the snare positioning and the general layout pictured above is what you want to shoot for. Bear in mind that most drum kits have four cymbals, which means two crashes (green cymbals) on the left and right. So at some level having just one green cymbal is kind of fundamentally incorrect, and you may feel it’s on the “wrong” side depending on the song. In a perfect world you’d have a duplicate green cymbal on the left, too.

It’s been a much more substantial upgrade than I ever expected; not only does it work great (and it’s surprisingly quiet, arguably quieter than even the Rock Band 3 Pro drumkit in play), but the kit has encouraged me to learn more about real world drumming. The only thing you give up is the wireless connectivity, and any semblance of easy portability. Neither of these are very important to an avid drummer so I heartily recommend the Ion Drum Rocker.

I have a few more tips for new Drum Rocker owners based on my experience:

  • Once you get the kit, prepare to spend the first few days tweaking the layout to taste. Trust me, that little adjustment tool they include will be your best friend for a while. Just like a real drum kit, all those knobs and adjustments are fascinating — do not tie anything down until you’re absolutely sure you’ve got the layout just right!
  • Use a silver sharpie marker to measure and mark intervals on the frame crossbars, so you can get the alignment just right. And if you don’t have a silver sharpie yet, for shame. Go get one! Silver sharpies = awesome.
  • Only the foot pedal cable has a color band; I thought that was really clever and matched the colored inputs perfectly, so I bought some Scotch Vinyl Colored Tape in red, green, yellow, and blue to mark both ends of all the cables so I always knew which pad or cymbal it was going to.
  • Rather than using the supplied zip-ties, I found it was simpler and faster to wind the extra cables around the frame.

I’m enjoying these baby steps into the world of real music and real musicians tremendously. In the end, with the Ion Drum Rocker you’re paying ~$300 (once you factor in that important 3rd cymbal) to get a reasonably complete, good quality basic electronic drum kit. It’s only a little more than 2x the price of the default Rock Band 3 pro drum kit ($129), and what you get is way more than 2 times as configurable, reliable, and realistic. That’s a great deal in my book!

Congratulations on the upgrade. I meant to comment on your Stack Exchange thread as I’ve recently been through a similar process, but never got around to it.

I’ve got a Roland TD9-KX and the MIDI Pro Adapter, so I’ve been able to go for the exact set-up in your diagram. Having that extra crash is a lifesaver on Expert – getting to the right hand crash for one note in the middle of a run of fast hi-hats is very difficult on a kit this size. Is there no way you can get another extra cymbal and use a jack-splitter of some kind to wire both into the green? You’ll be thankful for it, and it’s more like playing a real kit, so you can blame the expense on it being a learning experience!

I also have my hi-hat set up to fire a blue when the pedal is up, for open hi-hat, which is how the game maps it. Right now I usually cheat and hit the ride because it’s so much easier, but I’m trying to make the transition on some easier songs. I’m guessing there’s no way to do that with the Ion?

Tom Whitaker
September 19, 2011 at 5:33 am

Welcome to the drum club Jeff, im surprised you only recently got these. I love mine.

Liam Molloy
September 19, 2011 at 8:44 am

LOVELY, We gotta try these. The last test was unfair to me ;)

Martin Marconcini
September 19, 2011 at 11:52 am

I recommend a second blue pad to put just to the side/behind of the yellow pad, for those open hi-hats that are mapped to blue. You’ll need a 1/4″ splitter to connect them both, and it just so happens I have an extra, and since you were nice enough to give me a gift for my karaoke list site, email me if you want it and I’ll mail it off to you.

I have since moved past the Ions to Roland triggers (one 12″, three 10″), Pintech TC cymbals (with second blue as described above), a Pearl pedal with Yamaha KP65 trigger, and Alesis Trigger IO with the MIDI Pro Adapter. I bet with time you, too, will feel the itch to upgrade again to something like this. :-)

September 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Oh, I should mention that I have my green crash in front of me (instead of to the far right as you do), and the larger of the two blues to the far right for playing as a ride cymbal. This takes some getting used to, but gameplay is much more realistic this way.

September 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I did the same thing to my kit with the colored electrical tape. Makes it easy to figure out which wires go where when I remove a couple of pads or cymbals for repairs (I’ve had my kit for over two years).

I also did not use the zip ties; I got some (a lot of) velcro straps instead, figuring I’d be moving things around from time to time and not wanting to worry about cutting zip ties & replacing them.

September 20, 2011 at 4:40 am

> I have my green crash in front of me

I tried this but it blew my mind — green has been “far right” for as long as I can remember… as I mentioned in the article, I think the correct solution here is TWO green crash cymbals, duplicated, one on the left (between hi-hat and ride) and one on the far right where it traditionally goes.

> I bet with time you, too, will feel the itch to upgrade again

You’re right! I already did go with a more realistic pedal setup, which I will blog this weekend hopefully…

Jeff Atwood
September 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I do love my kit, but sometimes I have issues where I’ll lose a streak because of a false trigger. Ugh.

I have my green cymbal right next to my yellow, just like my real kit. I’m going to get another green and put it next to the blue. It took me a bit to learn, but since I’m listening to the music, I know what’s supposed to be a crash, so it works (and feels right).

Oh, and I bought the high hat-box from and its brilliant. Its pretty obvious whats an open high-hat (series of yellow followed by a single blue then more yellow).

September 21, 2011 at 7:42 am

I would strongly second the idea of having a second Blue cymbal near the Yellow for those fast open hi-hats. Helps tremendously, especially if your only other B is on the other side of the kit.

Although your child is unlikely to wreck the frame, the cymbals have a reputation of giving out after a while, and the pads can also develop issues of their own. The functional parts of the kit are somewhat less bulletproof than the structural parts.

There’s a wealth of info on our forum at , so I cordially invite you to visit and have a look!

Also, if you want to get more cymbals, I would encourage you to look into getting Pintech gear, as they’re arguably better quality than the Ion stuff and they have excellent customer service. You may also want to look into getting some diagonal braces for the rack, as they will help with stability.

Just FYI: Alesis doesn’t actually manufacture this stuff. It’s really made by a company called Medeli. The only part made specifically for this kit is the controller, I think.

September 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Good tip!

Here’s a link to the diagonal braces, the Pintech Rack Leg Brace — fits all 1 1/2″ round rack tubing and uses a standard drum key attachment.

Jeff Atwood
September 27, 2011 at 8:30 pm

And to see how to hook up a Yama DTXplorer digital drum kit to Rock Band, check out

Jeff Atwood
October 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Anyone have issues with the ION Drum Rocker causing PS3 to stop playing in middle of songs? Playing RB3 alone on drums, in the middle of songs, will display error message “Reconnect Controller”. I have to physically pull out USB and re-insert to continue playing. Any ideas/solutions to prevent this? I assume that its static electricity causing it short out…

December 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

@brent I have heard of this, and supposedly the KickWire can help:

“The KickWire virtually eliminates the random disconnects with ps3 ion drum brain from static electricty on the footpedal.”

Jeff Atwood
December 21, 2011 at 11:32 am

Nice, do you know if the ION is more accurate than my ROland TD6 with MIDI pro adapter since the ION has 0 conversions to make and is a straight shot to the console. I am in a bind since my TD and MIDI pro adpater can not map open hi hats properly. Instead of introducing an additional MIDI converter just for this purpose, I may just get an ION. I have noticed some streaks getting messed up for no reason and am just curious something may be getting lost in the translation or getting delayed?

February 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

@Jaxsn I don’t know, but the ION is extremely accurate in all accounts, and in my experience. However the cymbals and pads can wear out over time, of course.

Jeff Atwood
March 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Although it’s an amazing kit when it’s working I did have significant problems with the kit, my pedal broke with in the first week and replaced it but that one still works good and has for about 3 years now but the major problem is with the pads, they are complete shit, the censors in the pads started to fail on me after about 3 months and bought a whole new kit and those pads also faild on me so I did buy the replacement pads and those seem to work but the censor did go in one of them, so the pads are shit in my opinion

Joey Angelucci
August 8, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Any idea if you can upgrade the original ion Drum Rocker set to include Rock band 3′s high hat pedal?

Jason Schaeffer
August 28, 2013 at 7:55 am

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